Has PV Sindhu Found Her Mojo Again?

Credit: BWF

PV Sindhu, one of our great champions, had lost her eighth final in a row in 2019 when we managed to speak to her. Things between her and Pullela Gopichand, her coach, had not yet gone south, and Gopi was with her when one of us called. Sindhu, clearly, was distraught. We could hear her howl on the phone and her words, “I need to get over this. People think I can’t play under pressure.”

Since then, she has gone on to win a world title, a second Olympic medal, a Commonwealth Games gold and more. And yet when she was injured post the CWG, there was a cloud over her future. She was doubted, and many felt it would be impossible for her to return to top-flight badminton. And her return, to be fair to her critics, was laboured. She struggled and looked lethargic. Her height and reach, which she has used to maximum effect all her career, no longer seemed to give her an advantage. She wasn’t able to move well, and it was a real struggle for her even against players of modest stature.

But then, she is Sindhu. Each time you question her, she digs deeper. Finds resolve and attempts to get better. This time too, it is no different. She isn’t there yet. There is no question, there is still some distance to travel before Sindhu is back in the top league. But then the signs are all there for us to see. Anyone who watched her match against GM Tunjung on Tuesday in the round of 32 in Indonesia would know what I mean. She retrieved a lot of shuttles that she was just giving up on a month ago. She was agile and mentally switched on, and each time Tunjung tried to make a comeback, Sindhu was there to stop it.

Tunjung’s reaction at game point in the first game said it all. It was the first real sign of frustration from her, and Sindhu clearly had managed to do things right. After consecutive losses to the same opponent, Sindhu was ahead against the world No.9 and the second game was proof of what confidence can do. At no point did Tunjung have a chance. All of a sudden, the number of errors went up, and Sindhu was there for almost every shuttle. She knew where Tunjung would try her shots, and it was much like the Sindhu of old.

A comfortable win, and she had avenged the Madrid final defeat and the Malaysia Masters loss. But then, the draw is such that she faces Tai Tzu Ying in the next round. Ranked No.3, Tai is one of the greatest to have played the sport and someone Sindhu has always found hard to beat. Having said that, Sindhu did push Tai a month ago, and challenged Akane Yamaguchi in Singapore. All of a sudden, she has started to challenge the best and that’s what gives us hope.

The point I am trying to make is simple. Sindhu knows the big stage, and has always pushed a notch higher when it’s Olympics time. And with Olympic qualification having started from May 1, there is every reason to believe Sindhu will yet again start to push the bar.

She will be 28 in Paris, still in the prime of her career. And it may well be her moment, if she is able to regain full fitness. At the moment, she is behind Yamaguchi, Tai Tzu, An Se Young and Chen Yu Fei. These four girls have dominated women’s badminton for a while now, and Sindhu is more of an also-ran at the moment. But then the Olympics are a whole different ball game. It is about pressure, and who handles it better.

We have seen what Sindhu did to Yamaguchi in Tokyo. We have seen how she took out He B in the bronze-medal encounter. We have seen her beat Tai Tzu in Rio. Paris will give her one final opportunity to do it for the tricolour. Stand on the Olympic podium yet one more time. All of India will be smiling and crying with her. In satisfaction, and in celebration of a mission fulfilled. The journey had started in Rio. It picked up momentum in Tokyo, and Paris could well be the home stretch. The finale for PV Sindhu, India’s greatest badminton player ever.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *